SOCHI, Russia, Oct 12 (Reuters) - Force India deputy team principal Bob Fernley may have let a European competition genie out of the bottle but, if so, the Briton said he was ready to face the wrath of Formula One’s powers-that-be.
Fernley’s privately-owned team, along with Swiss rivals Sauber, last month filed a complaint asking the EU authorities to investigate the governance of the sport and the distribution of revenues.
The action comes at a delicate time, with talk of a takeover of Formula One by the end of the year while Renault and Red Bull are still assessing their future involvement and Ferrari have launched an Initial Public Offering.
If the Commission decides to investigate, it could affect the amount of money top teams like Ferrari receive from the commercial rights holder as well as their influence on decision making.
Fernley told Reuters at the Russian Grand Prix, where his team’s Mexican driver Sergio Perez finished third on Sunday, that he expected the competition authorities to take two to three months before deciding how to proceed.
“If they do decide to investigate, I think it will be quite rapid that Formula One will feel the effects of the EU,” he added.
He said the complaint process could not now be stopped, even if a deal was offered.
“We can’t close it, that is absolutely correct. So there is no question of that,” he said.
Force India, Sauber and Lotus first raised grievances about the distribution of revenues a year ago when the Caterham and Marussia teams went into administration and there was a risk of others following.
Indebted Lotus, now seemingly set to be taken over by Renault after fending off attempts to put them into administration, have not joined in the EU complaint.
In a letter to commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone, the three teams spoke then of a “a questionable cartel” controlling “both the governance of Formula One and, apparently, the distribution of... funds.”
A briefing note after the formal complaint to the EU spoke of ‘unfair’ side payments and ‘unlawful practices’.
Top teams Mercedes, Ferrari, McLaren, Williams and Red Bull receive special payments in recognition of past performance and sit with the commercial rights holder and governing FIA on the sport’s core decision-making ‘strategy group’.
The smaller teams say the system is skewed unfairly in favour of the big ones who are guaranteed millions of dollars regardless of how they perform on the track and also get to determine future rule changes.
Fernley, whose team are also on the Strategy Group as the ‘best of the rest’, said the smaller teams had been assured by majority rights holders CVC that something would be done about the distribution of revenues but nothing had happened.
“They’ve had a year to be able to make the right approaches, to be able to put something in position that had been promised if you like after the Austin Grand Prix,” he said.
“The only way it can work now is for CVC to be accountable to a body that has the power to be able to bring them to task.
“I think 12 months of opportunity to correct things, or at least to be seen to be moving in the right direction, is more than enough time. And clearly that hasn’t happened and we need to refer it to a body that has the powers to look into it independently,” he added.
Fernley, who has put his head above the parapet in the past as deputy to the team’s Indian drinks magnate owner Vijay Mallya, said he wanted to ensure the existing private teams survived and others might still be able to enter.
If that meant he had to pay a personal price, so be it.
“You’ve got to say, are you prepared to stand up for what you believe?,” said the Briton, who has worked with Mallya since the 1970s when they bought and sold old Formula One cars and raced them in India.
“I had a very privileged life for 30 years with motor racing, I would hate to think that the way Formula One is going spirals it down to a point where other people are not going to be able to have that opportunity.” (Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ken Ferris)